Employee safety is among the highest priority areas today.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the incorporation of advanced technology across various facets of the restaurant industry. From contactless ordering and extensive systems for take-out/delivery fulfillment to real-time location solutions and mobile tracking devices, restaurants have leveraged the latest forms of digital innovation as a means for survival. Amid the challenging times we’re living through, advanced technology is clearly helping restaurants weather the storm.

Employee safety is among the highest priority areas where restaurants have can also rely on advanced technology. An entire restaurant staff of servers, hosts, bartenders and kitchen crews are forced to work in public settings during a public health crisis – and now more than ever, they are the glue holding restaurants together. Although providing a safe workplace environment has always been important, ensuring employee safety and now its direct relationship to customer safety during the pandemic is paramount to the success of any and all enterprises. The margin for error is much slimmer.

Below, we’ll delve into specific areas where digital transformation can play an integral role in preserving employee safety throughout COVID-19. However, like the old saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” implies, these newly developed, state of the art technologies—and their benefits—are here to stay. 

Effective Training

COVID-19 has required restaurants to establish a number of new measures for employees to follow, ranging from ramped up sanitation practices with visible cleanliness to staff-wide social distancing, operational adjustments (drive-thru vs. dine-in) and staff-wide cross utilization. Employees needed to undergo extensive training on the new measures, but with as little human-to-human contact as possible to avoid potential virus transmission.

So instead of manually instructing their staff on recently implemented protocols, a workforce optimization system provides the necessary training regimens and resources for employees to follow—with omnichannel accessibility from any computer, tablet or mobile device. With optimal training measures in place that inform employees, the restaurant can further foster a safe workplace environment both during and after the pandemic. The natural extension to this out of class-room learning is to integrate all training into these platforms to support growth as well as reducing turnover costs.

Streamlined Communication and Scheduling

From a communication standpoint, workforce optimization systems can help restaurants manage rapid demand volatility and fluctuating employee availability—both of which contribute to employee safety. Let’s say three people called off last-minute for a busy dinner shift, but without a steady line of communication, the manager didn’t have enough time to schedule replacements. Now, the restaurant is understaffed, which forces the present employees to handle additional responsibilities. A busser becomes flustered and forgets to sanitize a set of tables, leading to a COVID-19 outbreak within the building. In turn, the restaurant would be forced to shut down for an extended period of time or, in the worst-case scenario, close its doors permanently.

Fortunately, that type of situation can be avoided with a digital workforce optimization system, which can quickly and efficiently adjust staff schedules based on its own automated forecasting. The system also allows managers to send alerts to an employee’s mobile device notifying them of scheduling changes or call-offs, thus ensuring optimal staff levels for providing quality service in a safe environment. Since this technology has proven its effectiveness during COVID-19, there’s no reason to believe that restaurants won’t continue leveraging streamlined communication and scheduling for employee safety once the pandemic subsides.

Actionable Insights

Among the numerous new realities that will emerge following the pandemic, it’s likely that several traditional norms of restaurant service will be changed for good – even after our society receives an effective vaccine. Volumes distributions may well shift, but the advent of the “new” mixed revenue stream restaurants (take-out, drive-thru and delivery, in-house and third-party) demand are here to stay. So is QR code digital menu service for quick, contactless ordering. And it will probably be advanced for direct ordering in more venues, as we see in the quick serve market.  Physical greetings like a handshake or hug may be a lot less common as well.

Regarding workplace safety, extensive sanitation and visible cleanliness practices that assure employees are comfortable working in public settings and give customers an increased sense of safety, will likely remain in place. In response, restaurants will need to stay on top of new norms of the post-pandemic environment to identify what methods work best. A labor management software equipped with digital high frequency survey capabilities can give restaurants the actionable insights they need to maintain a consistently safe environment. Before and after shifts, employees could answer a quick survey about their day. Then, based on the feedback collected, management can make the proper adjustments to address staff concerns

By capitalizing on our current era of digital transformation, restaurants are finding solutions to the complex challenges of safeguarding all stakeholders of their operations. But it’s important to remember that those solutions aren’t exclusive to the COVID-19 environment. Now is the time for companies to continue to explore new technology investments that will enable them to meet employee safety standards, customer needs and offer a positive workplace environment in the years to come.

Mark Heymann is CEO and cofounder of UniFocus, the leading workforce performance firm in the service sector. He brings to his position more than 30 years of expertise in the industry. Today, UniFocus’ software systems optimize workforce performance with the most comprehensive tools available on the market.”

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees